Thanks to his celebrity status, the arrest of Mark Thatcher has led to the lurid details of the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea being splashed all over the press, giving a rare glimpse into the backroom dealings that actually shape the lives of the masses of humanity – a far cry from the ‘democratic process’ officially endorsed by his mother and her fellow mouthpieces in parliament!
“Imperialism strives for domination, not democracy.”
This profound observation of Lenin’s was given further proof and brought vividly to life by events surrounding the arrest on 25 August of Mark Thatcher (son of former Tory PM Margaret Thatcher) from his sprawling $2m luxury villa in Cape Town’s wine-growing suburb of Constantia, evidently a playground of the rich and infamous.
This ‘scandal’ fired the imagination of the international press chiefly due to the political prominence of Mark’s mother (now ‘Baroness’ Thatcher, a title bestowed for loyal services rendered to the British ruling class), who posted the Rand 1.2m bail to release him from house arrest nine days later. It also provided a rare window into the shadowy dealings of big business, throwing glaring light on the back room deals and inner workings of imperialist ‘democracy’, bringing into stark relief the real causes of international conflict that constantly engulf and blight the African continent.
Why was Thatcher so rudely snatched from among the well connected denizens of Constantia by South Africa’s elite ‘Scorpions’, apparently while making hasty preparations to abscond?
It transpires he was required to answer some uncomfortable questions regarding his part in financing a failed coup to depose President Theodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea. The attempted overthrow fell flat on its face in March this year despite the undeniably extensive, not to say despicable, experience of its military leader, Simon Mann, who formerly ran a notorious mercenary band under the sanitised and innocuous-sounding corporate cover name ‘Executive Outcomes’ from the democratic haven that was apartheid South Africa.
In total disregard of anti-mercenary laws enacted by the incoming ANC government three years after the political overthrow of apartheid in 1994, Simon Mann and his ilk have carried on from that country accumulating filthy blood money – amidst a profusion of similar ‘firms’ – simply by changing its name to ‘Logo Logistics’.
An Old Etonian and former SAS officer, Simon Mann is a scion of the Watney brewing empire, as well as (coincidentally!) a longstanding friend and next-door neighbour of Mark Thatcher.
We cannot express our contempt too forcefully for such parasitic mercenaries, the living embodiment of imperialist plunder who, motivated solely by greed for a fistful of dollars, gleefully plan and execute their murderous deeds, entrenching and extending the robbery of mineral wealth from Africa’s masses, millions of whom are consequently ever on the brink of starvation. Indeed, millions of African children die from malnutrition and related diseases every single year. These millions of children and babies die in their mothers’ arms precisely because of the poverty socially engineered by monopoly capitalist gangsters through such willing agents as Mann. Truly, their wealth is built upon our poverty, their joy upon our misery!
A bit of history: Equatorial Guinea
This tiny Spanish-speaking state in West Africa, consisting of three islands and four continental provinces bordered by Gabon to the south and east and Cameroon to the north, had a population of just 386,000 in 1994. Its capital, Malabo, is home to a mere 30,000 people.
Despite being ceded to Spain by the Portuguese in 1778 (who in characteristically arrogant colonial fashion had declared themselves ‘Lords of Guinea’), the local inhabitants (predominantly Fang and Ndowe) rebuffed initial attempts by the Spanish to occupy the territory.
However: “The Ndowe became allies and intermediaries of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English slave traders. The Fang, whose social organisation did not include slavery, withdrew to the forests, convinced [not entirely unreasonably!] that the white men were cannibals …
“The French and British gradually took over sections of the territory, with the British finally occupying it, founding the first settlements. They used it as a base for their conquest of Nigeria and turned the freed slaves, or ‘Fernandinos’, into their agents, creating a ruling group that in many aspects still exists today.
“Between 1843 and 1858, the district was militarily re-conquered by Spain, re-establishing their rights over the area. At that time economic activity centred around cacao, coffee and timber …
“The Spanish colonists, led by Fernando Po, supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War and were later granted almost full power over the archipelago. Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s prime minister, owned the colony’s largest cacao plantations.” (New Internationalist World Guide 1997/8)
1963 brought independence to the colony, and its first president Francisco Macias Nguema appears to have had a loose alignment with the Soviet bloc, as he endeavoured to resist western imperialist looting. Consequently, in August 1979, a coup was organised, and his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema was installed, allowing “the US, France and Spain to dominate the economy, controlling the extraction of oil, iron ore and lumber”.
Having engineered ‘elections’ in 1982, Nguema Jr linked his currency (the Ekwele) to the customs and economic union of central Africa (UDEAC) and through this to the currencies of the West. He obediently applied IMF-enforced Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) to his national economy in return for insignificant loans and went on to allow European nations to dump toxic waste on his country’s previously unspoiled islands.
Inter-imperialist rivalry – US vs EU
The fall of the Soviet Union put an end to imperialism’s ‘united front’ in Africa. In the new ‘scramble for Africa’ that ensued, it is clear that the US gained the upper hand in Equatorial Guinea. Their Man has been re-elected amidst howling controversy (due to his perpetually arresting and banning opposition groups with full US backing and complicity) for a record five successive terms, while exiled opposition leader Severo Moto is close to the former colonial power of Spain (EU).
Equatorial Guinea was discovered to have extensive oil reserves in the early 90s and is already Africa’s third largest producer of oil after Nigeria and Angola. At $50 a barrel (thanks to the heroic resistance of the Iraqi people to US occupation), its output of 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) makes it a $5bn industry annually, and production is expected to double in the next three years. Like neighbouring giant Congo and much of the Middle East, Equatorial Guinea may be judged to be blighted by its wealth. It has become an African Kuwait: an oil well with a flag. As such it is bound to be the intense focus of financial brigandage.
In the event, an ad hoc ‘coup-consortium’ was cobbled together last Christmas over a lavish barbecue at Mark Thatcher’s Constantia residence, while Mummy served as guest of honour, hob-nobbing and ingratiating herself with her son’s elite personal and business contacts as they schemed.
The accounts of Logo Logistics reveal that among the conspirators were also Lord Jeffrey H Archer, who needs no introduction, Gianfranco Cicogna, the South African Telecoms tycoon, and many other longstanding friends of Mark including Eli Calil, a Nigerian born Lebanese businessman said to be the main financier of the coup. (Evening Standard, 26 August 2004)
Thatcher himself pledged $134,000, which he now claims he put up for the purchase of a medical air ambulance. All very altruistic, but lest we are gulled into taking his word at face value, let us turn to the Financial Times of 26 August, which reminds us that the “wealthy fixer has attracted a swirl of allegations”. After setting up Mark Thatcher Racing, attracting ‘financial problems’ and getting lost somewhere in the Sahara during the 1982 Paris-Dakar rally, Mark next hit the headlines when parliamentary questions were asked about his role (as son of the PM) in getting the company Cementation (which employed him as a consultant) awarded a multi-million pound contract to build a university in the wealthy client state of Oman. He then went to Dallas, Texas, promoting Lotus Cars as well as himself and meeting millionairess Diana Burgdorff, whom he married. His career went on to encompass numerous arms deals for South African (during the apartheid era) manufacturers and he was “believed to have benefited substantially from the mammoth UK-Saudi Al Yamamah arms deal secured by Mrs Thatcher’s government in the late 1980s”. The public accounts committee of parliament refused to investigate. After all, his mum was the PM!
“Mann’s coup plot held great allure for some. According to testimony, he planned to overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler, Brig Gen Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and install exiled opposition figure Severo Moto. Up for grabs were millions in new oil contracts … Mann planned to storm the presidential palace in Malabo with dozens of mercenaries and murder or capture Obiang in his bed. In the end it was Thatcher who was rudely roused.
“In July a US Senate investigation into Riggs Bank found that Obiang and his family kept millions of dollars in bank accounts in Washington, DC, some of which was spent on luxury homes. By last year, according to the Senate report, the accounts controlled by Obiang had ballooned to $700m. SEC officials have since begun investigating five companies – Marathon Oil, Amerada Hess, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy, and Exxon Mobil – to determine whether they paid bribes to the ruling clan, including leasing land from an Obiang-controlled company at inflated prices.
“The oil companies deny bribing government officials, but such sweetheart [!] deals would not be surprising in Equatorial Guinea. ‘The big problem for the oil companies [on the contrary, their greatest asset] is that everything is tightly controlled by the family of the President,’ says Philippe Vasset, editor of Africa Energy Intelligence, an industry newsletter in Paris. ‘Maybe ten people are running the country, and nine are close relatives of the President.'”
Mann’s plan was to load some 70 South African mercenaries (himself at the helm) aboard Logo Logistics’ jumbo jet, before heading for illegally occupied eastern DR Congo, where he was set to drop off a small detachment to protect one of the many illegal coltan mining operations and wait for the appropriate signal to head on to the presidential palace in Malabo, where the current incumbent would be done to death in favour of the young – and equally anti-popular pretender.
“The plot was scuttled in March, when South African intelligence officials tipped off Obiang and Zimbabwean officials as Mann was flying [his] Boeing 727 out of South Africa. He made it only as far as Zimbabwe, where he stopped to load up with [£100,000 worth of] guns. [ZANLA] Soldiers impounded the plane and threw Mann in jail.” (Fortune Magazine, 20 September 2004)
The advance party of fifteen hired assassins, led by South African mercenary Nick Du Toit was simultaneously detained in Equatorial Guinea and has also fingered Thatcher, when faced with the sobering reality of capture and a possible death sentence.
While Mann and the key investors would have received a substantial percentage of the tiny country’s massive oil revenue (thus saving the difficult job of having to divide it among the 500,000 local inhabitants), the 69 hired hands of subordinate rank were to receive a paltry $3,500 blood money. Following their arrest, their families have in fact received just $500 towards living expenses and legal costs. There is no loyalty among thieves.
Frustrated at his inability to bribe the Zimbabweans, Mann appealed to his financiers to use their political muscle in a now famous scribbled missive to ‘Smelly and Scratcher’ (Thatcher) to secure his release. The letter was intercepted and only helped to implicate the other co-conspirators. Thatcher is due to appear before magistrates in South Africa to answer questions in November.
“The biggest mercenary trial in Africa’s recent history ended in the capital Harare with Mann’s 67 accomplices receiving prison sentences of between 12 and 18 months for immigration and aviation offences. Two other men were acquitted.
“The court reserved its harshest sentence for 51-year-old Mann, who holds British and South African citizenship.
“‘The accused [Mann] was the author of the whole transaction,’ said Mishrod Guvamombe, the magistrate, imposing sentence in a makeshift court inside Harare’s maximum security prison. ‘He was caught while trying to take the firearms out of the country.'”
“Mann had admitted trying to buy weapons valued at more than £100,000 from the state-owned defence company in Zimbabwe.” (Daily Telegraph, 11 September 2004)
Mann was convicted and sentenced to seven years’ hard labour, much to the distress of the Daily Telegraph correspondent, who, condemning the lice-infested hard labour time Mann will deservedly suffer, lamented: “These are now the living conditions of a man who should have been sitting on his 20-acre estate on the Beaulieu river awaiting the birth of his seventh child this weekend.”
All very sad!
War and destruction inevitable under capitalism
The ceaseless thirst of capital for expansion compels our capitalist to exploit labour ever more frenziedly if he is to survive – at the expense of his competitors. In the era of imperialism, when the world’s territories are completely divided among the existing multi-national conglomerates and form the ‘spheres of interest’ (neo-colonies) of powerful groups of imperialists, this same relentless pressure of competition sends our modern day neo-colonial adventurers on murderous missions of conquest to re-divide the spoils, just as the last two world wars sent 100m workers to their deaths
In the (relatively petty) case of Thatcher, Mann, Archer et al, the mission was to topple the US-backed regime of tiny Equatorial Guinea in favour of another, equally anti-popular but more closely allied to their own business interests.
In the last analysis, we must say with Mao Tse Tung that “Imperialists are paper tigers, they pick up heavy rocks only to drop them on their own feet.” Just as in the African fable, the scorpion is compelled by his nature to sting the frog upon whose back he is crossing the river, causing them both to drown. As long as the imperialism clings to the reins of power, capital whispers in its ears: “Go on! Go on!” The greater the scale and desperation of its adventures, the greater the fury of the resistance it engenders. Above all other things, it creates its own grave diggers – the dispossessed masses of rural and industrial proletarians.
Our task is to unite the many streams and rivulets of resistance into a mighty torrent capable of washing away the filth of this decadent, senile and parasitic imperialist system.
Our only weapon is organisation
Capital follows cheap labour power. If British workers cannot defend our fellow workers overseas, chiefly our benighted brothers and sisters in Asia, Africa and Latin America, we will be hopelessly unable to stop the flight of capital to the sweat shops of the ‘third world’, putting us out of work into the bargain.
However, the leadership of the working-class movement is dominated by traitors whose watchword is to protect imperialism. In this context, a stunning example of social-imperialism (paying lip service to the concept of ‘socialism’ for popular consumption while backing imperialism and the petty privileges it bestows on a tiny minority of workers to the hilt) was provided by the TUC, which agreed to give its backing to the imperialist Labour government’s illegal occupation and plunder of Iraq in return for Blair’s Brighton congress promise of a few extra days’ holiday for its members each year!
Clearly the struggle against imperialism is a sham and a fraud unless it is inseparably bound up with the struggle against opportunism, a resolute and determined struggle against the Labour Party and all its hangers on; against all who purvey their reactionary filth in the workers’ movement.